Abstinence Only: Back So Soon?

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

I thought we all decided that abstinence only education doesn’t work. And I don’t mean “we” as in the pro-choice reproductive rights community—I mean students, teachers, parents, school boards, and even the president. But I guess some members of congress didn’t get the memo.

I thought we all decided that abstinence only education doesn’t work. And I don’t mean “we” as in the pro-choice reproductive rights community—I mean students, teachers, parents, school boards, and even the president.

But I guess some members of congress didn’t get the memo.

According to a report from the Associated Press late Tuesday night, members of the Senate Finance Committee are trying to put more funds into the ineffective “sex ed” curriculum. “A Senate committee voted Tuesday night to restore $50 million a year in federal funding for abstinence-only education that President Barack Obama has pushed to eliminate. The 12-11 vote by the Senate Finance Committee came over objections from its chairman, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana.”

So who was in charge of this ridiculous proposal? None other than Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.

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Shelby Knox, a national sex educator and activist extraordinaire, put up a post on Facebook this morning encouraging those in support of comprehensive sex ed to demand responsible education policies from their elected officials.

“It’s national Sex Education Week and 10 Senate Republicans, as well as 2 Democrats, approved an amendment to restore funding to ineffective, dangerous abstinence-only programs,” she wrote. “If you’re an Arkansas resident, call Sen. Lincoln (202 224-4843…) and tell her you DON’T approve of her vote last night. North Dakota residents, do the same (202 224-2043) for Senator Conrad.”

Luckily, this measure still has to go through the House and the Senate, so this still has a chance of being struck down. But we—and now I do mean our community of activists—need to remember that there are still powerful people who still put their faith in useless programs instead of understanding that honest education is the only path to healthy adulthood. And it’s up to us to let them know that they’re wrong.

Roundups Politics

At Iowa Forum, Democratic Candidates Weigh in on Campus Sexual Assault, Hyde Amendment

Ally Boguhn

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton convened in Iowa Monday night to weigh in on the issues that Black and Latino voters say most impact them.

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Hillary Clinton convened in Iowa Monday night to weigh in on the issues that Black and Latino voters say most impact them. 

The Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, which bills itself as the “oldest minority-focused presidential forum,” was hosted by news outlet Fusion and offered the candidates a chance to sit down and answer questions without interruptions from their fellow candidates.

The night’s line of questioning hit on everything from Kim Kardashian’s selfie strategies to more serious discussions of how each candidate’s platforms—including those related to sex education, abortion rights, immigration, higher education, gun control, and criminal justice reform, to name just a few—relate to issues of race, gender, and class

In this election season, debate moderators, sponsors, and even party leaders have continuously faced criticism for failing to provide voters with an unbiased and well-informed account of the candidates’ platforms. Through a series of tough questions and follow-ups on a number of issues typically excluded by the debates, Monday’s forum illustrated how journalists can better push candidates to answer to the issues that matter to the public.

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Here are some of the night’s highlights:

Bernie Sanders Spoke Out Against Abstinence-Based Sex Ed

Bernie Sanders kicked off the night with the first round of moderator and audience questioning—including an inquiry from a student about whether he would continue to fund abstinence-based sexual education should he be elected.

“Let me start off by saying something very radical,” Sanders replied. “I am a United States senator who believes in science and who believes in facts.”

“I think when we have too much unwanted pregnancy, I think that obviously women have the right to get the contraceptives that they need. When sexuality is an intrinsic part of human life, we should not run away from it,” he continued. When it comes to sex education, he concluded, “We should explain biology and sexuality to our kids on a factual basis. Period.”

In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report surveying the policies and practices of schools throughout the country, finding that less than half of high schools and one fifth of middle schools are teaching all of the sexual health topics recommended by the CDC, such as how to use and obtain condoms and other forms of contraception.

Sanders Called for a “Serious National Discussion” on Campus Sexual Assault

Sanders answered questions about campus sexual assault during the forum, calling for a “serious national discussion” on the matter.

“Rape and assault is rape or assault, whether it takes place on a campus or on a dark street. And if a student rapes a fellow student, that has got to be understood to be a very serious crime,” said Sanders.

“It has got to get outside of the school and have a police investigation. And that has got to take place. Too many schools now are seeing this as, ‘Well it’s a student issue, let’s deal with it.’ I disagree with that,” the senator continued, explaining that schools should treat rape seriously by turning over their investigations to police.

When moderator Alicia Menendez followed up by asking Sanders about whether he supported affirmative consent policies and bystander programs, the Democratic presidential candidate responded with a simple “of course I do,” noting that it was time to have a “serious national discussion about sexuality” and consent.

But not everybody was onboard with Sanders’ plan to turn over cases of rape on campus directly to law officials.

In a post for Feministing urging Sen. Sanders to revisit his position, senior editor Alexandra Brodsky, who co-founded Know Your IX, an organization that works to end sexual violence on campus, explained that “school responses to gender violence are necessary to protect students’ right to an education regardless of gender.”

Absolutely, it’s essential that students who feel like reporting to the police is best for them be able to do so,” explained Brodsky. “At the same time, school remedies, like dorm changes and tutoring, are crucially important for a survivor’s ability to learn. That’s why the anti-discrimination law Title IX requires schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault in addition to, not in place of, criminal law enforcement,” she continued.

Although higher education has consistently been an important part of Sander’s platform, the candidate has largely not engaged the issue of sexual violence on campuses—despite rival Hillary Clinton releasing her own platform on the issue, calling for increased prevention efforts and resources for survivors.

Martin O’Malley: No Situations Where a Man Should Be Able to Tell a Woman What to Do With Her Body

One of Martin O’Malley’s brightest moments of the night did not come until the end of his time with the forum, when he plainly asserted the autonomy of all women.

Responding to a moderator’s question in the “rapid fire” round about under “what scenario, if any, should a man ever be able to tell a woman what to do with her body,” O’Malley paused briefly before replying, “no scenario.”

During his time as mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley went on the record as “pro-choice” and earned a 100 percent rating from the Maryland chapter of NARAL, according to CBS News. His universal health care plan also includes a promise to “support universal access to reproductive health care” in order to help people “make the best possible choices for themselves and their future.”

Hillary Clinton Reasserted Support for Repealing the Hyde Amendment

Hillary Clinton once again pushed support for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which overwhelmingly limits government funding for abortion, telling the forum moderators that the restriction inhibits many low-income and rural women from accessing care.

“[The Hyde Amendment] is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion,” said Clinton.

“But if state governments, if politicians, use their power to try to restrict that right, well-off people are still going to have it. You know, we know that.  But a lot of poorer women, rural women, isolated far from a place where they can get services, are going to be denied,” Clinton explained, detailing how poor women are disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions, such as Hyde, which make cost a barrier to abortion care.

Last night wasn’t the first time Clinton has voiced her opposition to Hyde. Although the former secretary of state made headlines earlier this week for speaking out against the restriction on abortion funding while accepting Planned Parenthood’s endorsement in New Hampshire over the weekend, her campaign confirmed to Rewire in 2008 that Clinton was against the Hyde Amendment.

Clinton Called Criminal Justice Reform a Top Priority for the Next President

When asked by Fusion contributor and debate moderator Akilah Hughes how she would prove that Black lives matter as president, Clinton detailed the importance of reforming the criminal justice system, including policing and incarceration, and addressing institutional racism.

Criminal justice reform, policing reform, incarceration reform—and I believe strongly that this has to be the highest priority of the president,” Clinton explained, outlining her intentions to build on President Obama’s work on the matter.

Pointing to the system as it currently stands, Clinton called out the ways that institutional racism contradicts U.S. values. “It is such a violation of what we say our values are, you know, ‘equal before the law,’” Clinton explained. “Well, we have systemic racism and bias that is implicit in our system, and unless we begin to go after that and expose it and end it we won’t solve this problem.”

In her almost four-minute-long case for criminal justice reform, Clinton went on to call for the disruption of the school-to-prison pipeline, emphasizing the need for more investment in education and jobs for inner-city and rural communities.

Clinton’s mass incarceration reform agenda has been a priority for the candidate on the campaign trail for much of the last year, although she has had what have been described as “tense” meetings with Black Lives Matter activists.

In late October, Clinton released a comprehensive criminal justice reform platform, which included her intentions to push legislation to end racial profiling and for fairer drug sentencing.

Sanders has also voiced support for criminal justice reform, calling the number of incarcerated persons in the United States an “international embarrassment” and saying that reforming it is “one of the most important things that a president of the United States can do.”

Analysis Politics

Democratic Candidates Diverge on Health Care, Rally Around Family Leave

Teddy Wilson

Each of the five Democratic presidential candidates has supported the Affordable Care Act, but one candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), said during Tuesday's debate he would go a step beyond Obamacare if he won the presidency.

Democratic presidential candidates spent Tuesday night’s debate fielding an assortment of questions from CNN’s moderators, but discussed some critical issues only briefly or not at all.

Health care was among the topics largely ignored during the CNN-hosted debate, with the exception of questions about providing health services to undocumented immigrants. The candidates, however, have in recent months explained in detail where they stand on expanding access to health care.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s signature legislative achievement and a longtime source of Republican scorn, went almost entirely unmentioned. The refrain of repealing and replacing the ACA can still be heard among the Republican candidates, but the lack of focus on the issue during the first Democratic debate may have been driven by the undeniable success of the ACA in expanding health-care coverage across the country.

Since the implementation of the ACA, the national uninsured rate has plummeted from 17.1 percent to 11.6 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll. States that have expanded Medicaid under the ACA have seen dramatic effects. The number of uninsured people dropped by half in Ohio, and two-thirds of previously uninsured people gained coverage in California.

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Each of the five Democratic presidential candidates has supported the ACA, but one candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), said during the debate he would go a step beyond Obamacare if he won the presidency.

Sanders during his closing remarks reiterated his long held support of universal health care. “We should not be the only major country on Earth that does not guarantee health care to all of our people as a right of citizenship,” Sanders said.

Sanders has advocated the creation of universal health care by providing Medicare to all Americans. His campaign, however, has yet to release the specifics of his health-care plan.

The type of plan Sanders advocates, a single-payer system, enjoys significant public support. A little more than half of those surveyed this year said they support the idea of single payer, including one in four Republicans, according to a GBA Strategies poll

CNN debate moderator Dana Bash asked candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to address some of Sanders’ proposals, including making “Medicare available to all Americans.” Clinton never addressed whether she would support that proposal, even when pressed by Bash.

Clinton has a plan to expand affordable coverage and slow the growth of overall health care costs, according to her campaign site.

She has said that she would be open to considering the idea of allowing insurance companies to compete for customers across state lines. “If we’re going to have a free market system, we need a free market where we’ve got people competing on cost and quality, and that may be one thing we need to look at,” Clinton said, reported MSNBC.

Clinton in September released a multi-point plan that focused on reducing health-care costs and building on the successes of the ACA. The plan would more aggressively confront the insurance and pharmaceutical industries than the ACA does, and includes proposals such as capping a patient’s share of the bill for doctor visits and prescription drugs.

“It has gotten to the point where people are being asked to pay, not just hundreds, but thousands of dollars for a single pill,” Clinton said during a campaign speech in Iowa announcing the plan, reported the Associated Press. “And I can tell you, that is not the way a market is supposed to work. That is bad actors making a fortune off of people’s misfortune.”

Health care has for many years been a critical issue for many American voters, and while the ACA has continued to be a controversial political issue, the public’s view on the government’s role in health care has become less divided. Large bipartisan majorities support government intervention in health care, including reducing the cost of prescription drugs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

“Health is really a pocketbook issue more than a political issue now,” Kaiser Family Foundation president Drew Altman told the Los Angeles Times.

During Sanders’ defense of democratic socialism as an alternative to a “rigged economy,” he said it could be a solution to addressing massive income inequality and expanding health-care access, including paid family leave, to every American.

“When you look around the world you see every other major country providing health care to all people as a right—except the United States,” Sanders said. “You see every other major country saying to moms that when you have a baby we’re not going to separate you from your newborn baby because we are going to have medical and family paid leave.”

The benefits of paid family leave include higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, and greater employee retention, as well as significant health benefits, according to a study by Oxford Economics conducted for the U.S. Travel Association. 

Paid sick days are also important to public health, advocates say, given that three-quarters of food service industry and hotel workers don’t have paid sick days.

Sanders announced a legislative package in June to provide paid family and medical leave, paid sick leave, and paid vacation. The Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act, which would provide ten days of paid vacation for employees who have worked for an employer for at least one year, was presented as the centerpiece.

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Sanders co-sponsored Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) FAMILY Act, which would guarantee every employee 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. He also was a co-sponsor of Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-WA) Healthy Families Act, which would guarantee seven days of paid sick leave per year.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley threw his support behind paid family leave, and noted that his state expanded family leave during his time as governor. “We would be a stronger nation economically if we had paid family leave,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley signed the Maryland Parental Leave Act (MPLA) in May 2014. The law requires employers in the state to provide six workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period after the birth of an employee’s child or the placement of a child with an employee for adoption or foster care.

Bash asked Clinton to respond directly to Republican president candidate Carly Fiorina, who is opposed to federal paid family leave, which she claims would be a disincentive for businesses to hire women. Clinton also endorsed paid family leave, and offered a rebuttal to Fiorina’s opposition.

“I’m surprised she says that because California has had a paid leave program for a number of years, and it has not had the ill effects that the Republicans are always saying it will have,” Clinton said. “We can design a system and pay for it that does not put the burden on small business.”

California’s paid family leave law went into effect in July 2004. Under it, new mothers and fathers can take up to six weeks of paid leave to spend with their child. Leave can also be used by employees with a sick child, spouse, domestic partner, or parent.

In the ten years since its implementation, the program has positively affected children and families and has not caused problems for California employers, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Clinton pivoted from paid family leave and specifically addressed reproductive rights.

“It’s always the Republicans or their sympathizers who say you can’t have paid leave, you can’t provide health care,” Clinton said. “They don’t mind having big government interfere with a woman’s right to choose and taking down Planned Parenthood. They’re fine with big government when it comes to that. I’m sick of that. We can do these things.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the only Republican candidate who has offered anything other than opposition to paid family leave. The key policy difference between Rubio’s proposal and what the other Democratic candidates have endorsed is the way in which it would be implemented. Rubio has proposed creating tax incentives for businesses to provide family leave instead of requiring it from all employers. Those incentives have proven largely ineffective in changing the ways in which companies operate.

While improving the economy, pushing policies that support the economic standing of the middle class, and addressing income inequality were all subjects of discussion among the candidates, raising the minimum wage received only a few brief mentions.

Since Congress has been mired in gridlock, largely due to a relatively small group of far-right conservatives in the House, lawmakers have been unable to increase the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Several states and municipalities have acted independently to raise the minimum wage—a move supported by voters across the political spectrum. During the 2014 midterm, elections voters in four states approved ballot measures to increase the minimum wage.

Sanders said in order to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, people who work would have to unite and confront Republicans who are opposed to a living wage. “Workers are going to have to come together and look the Republicans in the eye, and say, ‘We know what’s going on. You vote against us, you are out of your job,’” Sanders said.

Clinton said she supported raising the minimum wage.

“At the center of my campaign is how we’re going to raise wages,” Clinton said. “Yes, of course, raise the minimum wage, but we have to do so much more, including finding ways so that companies share profits with the workers who helped to make them.”

O’Malley said that the difference between himself and his fellow candidates was that he was able to increase his state’s minimum wage.

During his time as governor, lawmakers in the Democratic-majority Maryland legislature passed measures that O’Malley took credit for during the debate. However, those legislative accomplishments, including the increase in the minimum wage, were modest. O’Malley in 2014 approved an increase to the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2018. That’s a far cry from the $15 per hour that activists are calling for in 2015.